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Sullivan panel sees no progress in budget talks

June 7th, 2012 10:27 pm by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE — Despite numerous meetings in recent weeks — the most recent Thursday evening — there’s no end in sight for development of Sullivan County’s budget for the 12-month cycle that begins July 1.

The Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee held its regular monthly meeting and also a budget workshop Thursday, but the group’s major achievement was deciding when to next meet to talk some more. The panel will meet again June 18, two hours after conclusion of that date’s full County Commission meeting.

Commissioner Bob Neal did float the idea of asking all departments and organizations that receive county funding to cut their budgets to 5 percent below this year’s funding levels.

No action was taken, but the concept seemed at least palatable to committee members, some of whom seemed immediately familiar with it.

Members of the audience — filled with department heads, county employees and volunteers with nonprofit agencies — reacted differently.

One asked how the 1.6 percent pay raise given employees this year — taken from each department’s existing funding level — would play into the potential 5 percent cut.

Longtime Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said that 1.6 percent would not be considered toward the 5 percent. In other words, departments would be expected to absorb a total 6.6 percent reduction from accounts that were reduced this year to cover the 1.6 percent raise.

Neal, however, did not put the proposal in the form of a motion, so it did not come for a vote.

Most of the workshop was a rehash of what the Budget Committee has previously been told or discussed, along with some updates on action taken earlier this week by its two sister groups, the County Commission’s Administrative and Executive committees.

Earlier this week, both those committees suggested potential trims from departmental and organizational budget requests.

While the Administrative Committee’s total “cuts” — from requested funding levels, not from this year’s funding levels — came to about $1.7 million, according to county accounting staff, that isn’t going to go very far toward lowering the actual deficit the county’s general fund is facing, Budget Committee members said.

Commissioner Robert White voiced a lackluster response to the Administrative and Executive committees’ efforts.

White said the two committees’ recommended reductions to budget requests included relatively little in the way of actual cuts.

The $1.7 million figure mentioned as a total for recommended reductions pegged by the Administrative Committee, White said, only totaled $290,000 in real savings from what those accounts received this budget year — and the Executive Committee basically cut $5,000.

White said the recommended cuts depended heavily on contributions to nonprofit agencies and are for amounts that won’t really make a dent in the multimillion-dollar gap in county finances between revenue and spending.

Williams said there is a $4.7 million difference between projected revenue and requested funding for general fund accounts in the upcoming budget.

About $2 million of that is requests for increased funding. Another $1.7 million represents the amount of fund balance used this year to cover spending — fund balance Williams said won’t be available for the budget year that begins July 1. The rest represents declining revenues, Williams said.

Williams said the most recent figures available show that since this budget year began on July 1, 2011, Sullivan County has spent $1.6 million more than it has collected in revenue.

“We hope ... by the end of the month some of these things will change,” Williams said.

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